Irish Mists

Grace O’Malley

Daughter of a County Mayo Chieftain and Sea Captain, she was discouraged from going to sea, so she cut her hair and dressed as a boy.  Legend says she saved her Father from an English intruder by leaping onto his back.  Married at 16 to the son of another Irish Chieftain, she took control of his fleet with considerable skill.  Donal-an-Chogaidh O’Flaherty was always feuding to expand his territory and was killed in 1560, leaving Grace with 3 kids.  Grace took to pirating, commanding anywhere from 5 to 20 vessels and employing up to 200 men.  Second husband Richard Bourke 1567 for political gain, lasted only a year, although they remained married until Bourke died 17 years later.  He was knighted in 1581 and she took the title Lady Bourke.  She based from his Rockfleet Castle in Carrighowley, Co. Mayo.  She and Bourke had one child, a son born on one of her galleys.  Legend says the ship was attacked just after his birth, and she rose from the labor bed to fend off the attack successfully.  Grace was arrested for plundering the Irish Kingdom of Desmond in 1577, and served two years.  She was released in the hope she could tame her rebel husband – a false hope.  After Bourke’s death from natural causes in1583, Grace settled at Rockfleet with 1000 cows and mares and uncounted followers.  The English Governor still saw her as trouble, and his brother killed her eldest son, which cemented her position as a rebel to the English crown.  She was arrested a second time, and got the death penalty, but her son in law volunteered to act as a hostage to guarentee her good behaviour.  Grace continued to fight for her rights against both England and Spain, joining with one or the other for her own benefit, recorded as leading men until at least 1601.  Grace died in 1603, a proud and brave adventurer who defended her family to the end, in spite of he spra of English rule throughout her life.

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